Recently, scattering ashes inland and at sea is getting popular among the younger generations. Known as Green Burial methods, these two methods help the environment by returning the remains to Mother Nature. In this article, we will explore the origins of Green burials and their pros and cons, and why some people prefer such a method to place cremated ashes in a columbarium.
The History of Inland Burial
The concept of inland burial is believed to be made famous in Hollywood movies, especially
war movies where the protagonist buried their friends in a beautiful piece of land facing a nice view of the seas. In the 70s, with the rise of global concerns about protecting our natural environments, the practice of inland burial started to gain popularity. It was then spread from the West into the East.
The practice of inland burial involves scattering fine ash remains of a dearly departed into the soil, flowers, trees, and plants. In Singapore, there are two designated areas where individuals can scatter the ash remains of their dearly departed. These two places are The Garden of Peace at Choa Chu Kang and the newest facility at Mandai – the Garden of Serenity.
Since its introduction to Singaporeans in 2021, this burial concept has received increasing application each year. Returning to Mother Nature at the end of our life cycles – is a noble decision.
The History of Sea Burial
Sea burial has been a long traditional burial practice for hundreds of years. Hindus believe that a person’s soul will travel via the Ganges River into a brand-new life when a person passes on. This is known as the concept of samsara. In India, sea burial ceremonies are widely conducted at the Ganges River. Therefore, it is a must for Hindus to conduct sea burials.
In the other part of the world, it is also believed that sea burials started in the Nordic countries during the Viking era. As the people of the sea, the Vikings buried their deceased comrades’ bodies in the embrace of the waters. However, such Norse burial has a huge flaw. By burying the bodies in the seas or rivers, the bodies may float after days in the sea.
In Singapore, proper sea burials involve scattering the cremated ashes into the designated areas of the seas (in the Changi area). The National Environment Agency and the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore must approve these designated areas.
The boat vessel will travel to the designated area during the sea burial. The ceremony usually includes closed family members of the deceased individuals and religious leaders. For Buddhist and Taoist believers, the priest will perform a chanting ritual. As for Christians, the gospel and hymns will be sung throughout the process. The family members gently scatter the fine ashes into the open seas. The bone remains will be kept inside a bio-degradable urn. When the fine ashes are entirely scattered, the family members will then drop the urn into the sea. And that completes the entire process.
Pros and Cons of Inland Burials or Sea Burials
Of course, whichever method one chooses will have pros and cons. Let’s look at them one by one.
1. It Helps the Environment
The concept of inland burial helps our environment in many ways. The ashes nourish the soil, providing the nutrients for flowering plants and trees to grow. It is our way of saying thanks to Mother Earth and returning the flavour to them when one passes.
2. Save Columbarium Spaces
The cost of a columbarium is high. And there is a need to maintain it. As the population grows, more niches will need to be built in the country. This will take up land spaces and push the cost of niches up in the long run. Hence, green burial can help to save columbarium spaces.
1. Difficulty in Worshipping for the Descendants
One of the biggest challenges is that the descendants will want to visit the deceased relatives during important dates such as death anniversaries, the lunar new year, or Qing Ming Festival. Visitors cannot offer incense or burn joss paper at the inland burial sites. Hence, it is tough for ancestor worshipping. However, at the end of the day, we must respect the deceased’s decision. He or she might have advised their family members to bury their ashes inland or at sea if they pass away. With a proper worshipping site, it is easier for the family members to pay their respect.
From filial piety’s perspective, scattering their ashes into the seas or inland may not be advisable for older deceased individuals. Hence, green burial methods are usually popular among the younger generations.
2. The Living Soul
Based on Taoist belief, when a person dies, their three souls will go on independent journeys. The first soul, the Spirit Soul (Ling Hun), will be on its journey into rebirth or enlightenment. The Jue Hun (Memories or Subconscious Soul) will remain in an object (usually in an ancestral tablet) where memories of the deceased are kept. The following essential soul is the Living Soul (Sheng Hun). It is believed that the Living soul will reside in the deceased’s cremated ashes and bone remains. Hence, it means that by scattering the ashes into the sea or soil, the living soul of the deceased may also be spread along with it. Therefore, it is essential to understand the deceased’s religion before deciding to do the burial on their behalf.
3. Emotional Impacts
For some people, scattering ashes may not provide the same sense of closure as columbarium or land burial. The act of scattering may feel too final, or the lack of a physical grave or memorial may make it more difficult to process the loss of a loved one.
Some people regretted when witness the scattered ashes of their loved one being mixed with others, from different religion or sexuality.
Respect the Final Decision for the Deceased
Majority of residents in Singapore prefer to keep the ashes of their loved ones in columbarium.
Often, the reasons most family members carry out sea burials or inland burials are based on the wishes of their deceased loved ones.
At the end of the day, we must respect their decision and carry out their last wishes with a dignified send-off, regardless of the type of burial practice.